Peak(s):  Blanca Peak  -  14,345 feet
Date Posted:  03/05/2007
Modified:  05/06/2014
Date Climbed:   03/04/2007
Author:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   Jcwhite, sdkeil
 Blanca Peak (Northwest Face)- Lake Como TH  

Intro to Calendar Winter Ascents and Winter Camping!

Date: Saturday-Sunday, March 3-4, 2007
Group: USAKeller, Jcwhite, and sdkeil
Route: Northwest Face from Lake Como TH

After missing Blanca last week, we wanted to go back this weekend to pick up this peak. The weather called for great weather- warm (relatively speaking) and sunny without high winds.

DAY 1:
Jcwhite, sdkeil, and I left Lakewood Saturday morning at 5:40am. We arrived at the Lake Como road 3 hours later and were able to park about 1.25 miles and 1,000ft. higher than we did last week (at 9,900ft.). Some snow drifts prevented us from driving any farther. I had been in contact with Grubneets (Pat) from about the conditions all week down there; he kindly offered to break any trail for us up to Lake Como. We got a later-than-expected start, met and talked with Grubneets on his way back down where we parked the car. After getting all geared up, we started up the road to the lake (my pack = 27lbs., sdkeil's pack = 35lbs., Jcwhite's pack = 40lbs.). This was my first-ever winter camp and backpack trip so I didn't know what to expect carrying a heavier pack somewhere! sdkeil and I made it up to the lake in 2 hours on snowshoes; Jcwhite skinned up and met us there 25 minutes later. The road had significantly melted from when we were there last week- no snowshoes needed until about 10,250ft. (same as last week). We were able to see a gorgeous sunset on the backpack up.

sdkeil hiking up to Lake Como with the sunset on Little Bear Peak:

As you immediately approach the lake, a wood cabin/structure sits off to the right of the trail that we figured would make a reasonable home for the night. The sun quickly went down, the temperature fell fast, and we found ourselves in the cold setting up the sleeping bags.

Jcwhite in front of the cabin in which we spent the night:

sdkeil boiled snow for our meals- warm backpacking meals have not tasted any better to us at that point! Headlamps out at 8:30pm (temperature inside the cabin: 7 deg.), sdkeil and Jcwhite fell asleep almost instantly, myself about an hour later.

DAY 2:
I was ready to wake up at 5:00am and start breakfast... YEAH RIGHT. The boys were still sleeping and I was so nervous to get out of my bag. Finally, at 7:20am (temperature: 11 deg.), we got out of the bags. The thermometer recorded an overnight low of 1.4 degrees inside the cabin. At first, we were planning on the Blanca-Ellingwood combo, but with a 9:20am start, Blanca Peak became the priority. Still, the weather was completely sunny and we had no wind to deal with.

Jcwhite, USAKeller, and sdkeil in front of Ellingwood Point (taken from 12,200ft.):

From above Blue Lakes, the photo below shows our route up to about 12,500ft. The snow in this section was slippery sugar snow. sdkeil and I kept wondering how this would be 5 hours later after the sun hit it.

Our route shown in red:

After this point, the next section posed the most avalanche concern we had all day. We did this short traverse (near Crater Lake, 12,700ft.) one at a time.

The traverse near Crater Lake:

At about 13,000ft., we stashed the snowshoes and skis. sdkeil and I broke our crampon virginity; the three of us would not take them off until we returned to this site. We definitely agreed that Ellingwood Point was out of the question- both because of lack of time and too much snow for possible avalanche danger. The next photo shows the remainder of the short traverse mentioned above and the route we took up to the ridge. A triangle-shaped patch of windblown rock is what we aimed for and stayed to the left of. As described in Bill's route description, there is a group of rock ledges right above the triangle patch of rocks (circled in blue) that we climbed up and to the left through. There is a very large rock rib after the rock ledges that we made our way to the left side of, and weaved in and out of it until we reached the ridge.

The route we took up to the ridge:

The last 50 feet was the hardest part of the climb with the difficulty reaching class 3 due to some scrambling on snow-covered boulders and some exposure to our left. This was slightly nerve-racking for both sdkeil and I since this was our first time using crampons on rock!

The crux of the climb- this is the last 50 feet or so (the picture does look deceiving though):

We summited in 4hrs. 35min. at 2:20pm (air temperature was around 40 deg. while the windchill from a 10-15 mph wind made it feel closer to around 30 deg.). The weather and views were fabulous.

sdkeil, Jcwhite, and USAKeller on the summit of Blanca Peak:

USAKeller on the summit of Blanca Peak with a good shot of the east side of
Little Bear Peak behind (Little Bear appeared to be the most wind-blown peak
of this Lake Como triplet):


Several photos and a quick snack later, we began the descent back down the ridge.

Jcwhite descending the ridge (with a sweet cornice!) near the point where we attained it:

When we got back down to the rock ledge area, Jcwhite taught sdkeil and I the proper technique on how to downclimb a steep snow slope (slope angle averaged around 40 degrees with a maximum slope angle of about 48-50 degrees at the rock ledges). The two of us have to admit that we didn't exactly know how we were going to get down because at first glance, it was intimidating. However, Jcwhite reassured us that it wouldn't be as tough as it looked. Once we learned this technique, the downclimb was not nearly as hard as it looked and ended up being a lot of fun! sdkeil even got to practice his self-arrest technique at the end of the descent as the slope angle eased up.

sdkeil (above me) and I downclimbing through the rock ledges:

We returned to our cache- Jcwhite skied down a ways, and then would wait for sdkeil and I to catch up. It was definitely a time where we wished we had skis! We mostly followed his ski path down, except for the steep chute he came out of onto Blue Lakes- it looked like a fun ski and he figured that had he not waited for us, he was able to return to the cabin in no more than 10-15 minutes from where he started. sdkeil and I got back to the cabin in 2hrs. 35min.; we packed up our belongings and made sure the place was clean. Jcwhite kept skiing down the road while sdkeil and I snowshoed- it was getting dark pretty quick and we tried to gain as much mileage as possible with what daylight we had left.

Another beautiful sunset over the San Luis Valley presented itself on the way down:

We ended up finishing the return trip in the dark (also a first for me!), and all got back to the car in 1hr. 15min. from Lake Como at 7:15pm. And, the weather was still wonderful. We were all tired, and the drive back home was long- back to Denver at midnight, I was home in Boulder at 1:00am.

A little something for TalusMonkey and AzScott (formerly Wyo_MtnMan)... Everyone's got a little Cap'n in 'em...!
This sort of activity isn't my thing- I basically barfed after this went down, it burned so bad!

We couldn't have asked for any better of a weekend to do this winter climb- the weather was amazing and to see this area in winter was more than exceptional!

*NOTE: We felt that to do any peak from this triplet in the winter is best done with an overnight camp. Although we averaged decent time, it still was a very long day.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
... for the pics. Looks like a great outing. Congrats!


What a weekend!!!
11/30/2010 17:28
What a great weekend for a summit, we couldn't have picked a better weekend. It was such a clear blue day that from Blanca's summit I think I saw beyond that "new" Mexico all the way to that "old" Mexico. Oddy enough though there were no polar bear sightings this time. Must have been too warm for them. Oh and USAKeller dont pretend you didnt like the Capt'n cause we all know you are a big lush!!!


A little extra information...
11/30/2010 17:28
HAHAHA! There is no pretending here! You know that the Cap'n is crampin' my style, burnin' holes in my stomach!

I was a little worried though that since there was a decent amount of snow that maybe a polar bear would appear camouflage against the snow and then pop out and scare me. But then I remembered that sdkeil taught me on Quandary Peak that they live near the north pole...I was so relieved!!!

I do need to mention that on the ride home, I was almost asleep, until sdkeil opened a beef log. That woke me up instantaneously (made me nautious). He claimed to have cut the package open ever so slightly... WHATEVER!


11/30/2010 17:28
The beef log just made me hungry. On the ride out there however, i got a whiff of that shi...i mean fiber-induced cereal with soy milk, and thats about as nautious as i felt all weekend. If the Cap'n is cramping your style, then you betta check yourself before you reck yourself. Beeflog > Whatever USA brings


Nice job!
03/06/2007 20:45
Jcwhite - how were the skin/ski conditions?


03/06/2007 16:18
Congrats to the 3 of you for getting this one in winter!


Hey Bill
03/06/2007 16:36
The skin/ski conditions were alright from about 10,200 to around 13,000. Above that you would have to be creative going from snow patch to snow patch. Ellingwood could be pretty good this spring though. Its pretty loaded right now.


03/06/2007 18:08
I was considering a trip up there with the family, but I doubt I will try for a summit ski until Spring.


11/30/2010 17:28
This was probably your best trip report write-up that I've read, Caroline. I'm way impressed that you guys made it up there. Blanca isn't exactly a walk in the park in the summer, let alone in the winter! But it's refreshing to see you guys earning your steps!! And you got some great practice on what looked to be rather decent snow. I'm glad to see you taking such a strong liking to winterneering. This trip must have left the three of you quite contented. A HUGE congratulations to all of ya!!


11/30/2010 17:28
Oh man, I'm so jelous... I swear, when I'm out of the house next winter and don't have my parents breathing down my neck, I'm so going on trips like this. Looks like you guys had a blast of a time!
By the way, I was in Alamosa that Saturday and looked up at the Blanca Massif and mentioned you guys to my step-mom. It must have been around 1:30 PM and I guessed that you were off Ellingwood by then and were on your way up Blanca. I know you didn't do Ellingwood, but was I close?


03/08/2007 05:10
Skasgaard we were all sorry you couldnt make the trip with us this past weekend, especially since you had kicked so much ass the previous weekend breaking trail. I know Caroline was most saddened by the fact the cabin did not take on that nice sardine smell haha!

Stevevets689 - Hmmm 1:30, I think we had just started making our push up Blanca. We took quite a few breaks making our way over to the base of the mtn, the weather was just soo nice it was hard to not stop and enjoy it a little. However, once we strapped the crampons on and started making our way up Blanca the game faces came on and we made great time. Somehow by the time we hit about 13,500 JCWhite was kickin all of our asses even though I think with his illness he had the lung capacity of a lifetime smoker with emphysema haha.


11/30/2010 17:28
Thanks for the comments everyone! It's nice to hear feedback- it took me well near 4.5 hours to write this one!!


Winter Climbing the Little Bear Hourglass
03/13/2007 16:28
I climbed Little Bear 1/24/06. The climb from Como Lake up the col to the West rigge was steep cramponing. The traverse to the base of the hourglass was much harder work than I expected. The hourglass cramponed pretty well, but there were sections of very har ice. there is a fixed rope that was exposed in the steepest areas and, where possible, I clipped in a jumar (but I never broke out my own rope that I was carrying). There is still some tricky stuff above the hourglass, but not as bad. My crampons and helmet stayed on from the base of the first col to the summit and back. Car to car was about 12 hours with 8 hours high on the mountain.
a week later I climbed Ellingwood and Blanca in about 13 hours car to car. The condtions reported by USAKeller are similar to what I found. Lots of cramponing.


05/05/2007 05:15
unbelievable!! please invite me on the next trip...

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